Taiwan’s Child Culture

Something that always fascinates me (and also often frustrates me) is something I like to refer to as “Taiwan’s Child Culture.”

The most important thing to understand about any culture is the way they raise their children.  Without question, the key to any culture is education.  Education is indoctrination: it’s where we learn what society expects of us.  Taiwan’s educational system is extremely simple: every question has only one answer and there is only one way to get that one answer, and anything outside of that is incorrect and you are a failure.  The system of learning follows three steps:

1. Memorize.

2. Regurgitate.

3. Repeat.

Now, I know what my American readers are thinking: “That sounds like the awful American educational system we’re now dealing with!”

Believe me, it’s not.

Not even close.

Allow me to put it in perspective.

Your average Taiwanese child wakes up between 6am and 7am.  They get to school around 8am.  There’s an hour-long nap-time after lunch and children are in school until 5pm or 6pm.  This is reality from the time they are 3 years old.

Creativity is only seen between the ages of 3 and 6 because most of the academic indoctrination focuses on comprehending orders and obeying them.  Now, that’s the case with most children, worldwide.  It’s important for them to memorize things; at that age, the human brain isn’t developed enough for analysis, so memorization and trial-and-error is really all you’ve got.  So there are fun times and creative times, but it’s really just a set-up for what comes next: the early death of childhood, which leads to maturity issues that eventually and inevitably create Taiwan’s Child Culture.

After preschool (called “kindergarten” here in Taiwan), children are sent to elementary school.  Again, this is an 8am-5pm day.  For a six year old kid.  But it gets better!  Because after school lets out at 5pm, children are sent to after-school programs – privatized learning centers called buxiban or “cram school.”

The term “cram school” is perfectly suited to describe the average buxiban, because these “small classes” of 10-to-15 students (as opposed to daytime classes of 40-to-50 students) consist of nothing more than drills: memorize, regurgitate, repeat.  This is important because Taiwanese students are tested in almost every subject almost every day, even as little kids.  Most students don’t get home until 8pm or 9pm, where they study some more and are lucky to get to bed before 11pm.  Then they wake up, 7-to-8 hours later, and do it all over again. There are buddle nurseries stafford that groom and make kids ready.

That’s the typical Monday-to-Friday.  School for twelve hours and, keep in-mind, this is pure school: the vast majority of Taiwanese schools have no recess.  Social skills are not a priority and, as such, not nurtured or developed.  The closest thing to social interaction children get is in the requirement that they tattle on any student they see not obeying the person in charge.

Starting in junior high, Taiwanese schools employ a military officer to enforce discipline at the school.  But, by that point, it doesn’t matter.  Students have been so hammered-down in elementary school, very few of them have any rebellion in them.  Confrontation is non-existent – passive-aggressive behavior rules – and any friendships are fostered in the ultra-short breaks between classes when students finally have time to talk to each other for a few minutes.

So imagine life, as a young person, where you are in school for 12 hours a day, in a school where you are tested constantly but rarely taught anything, while being expected to study and memorize outside of school (in “cram school” or at home) so you can pass all the tests you will have the next day.  Saturdays are not a break – it’s just more “cram school” or, in many cases, more “actual school,” as well.  A student probably has the day off Sunday, a day where they are so exhausted from their 60-to-70 hour workweek that all they want to do is crash.  That is normal life from ages 6 to 18: twelve years of life where development is crucial.

In short, Taiwanese children have no childhood.  The times where you should be learning emotional maturity, social skills, how to properly interact with others, how to solve problems, and how to think critically, simply does not happen in Taiwan.  People mature until they get to elementary school, at which time development stops for the sake of learning one thing: obedience.

So, If Childhood Dies So Early, What Do I Mean By “Taiwan’s Child Culture”?

Because Taiwanese children are never taught how to behave like adults, once they reach adulthood, most of them are completely inept when it comes to most things a Westerner would consider “typical everyday stuff.”  This becomes self-fulfilling, because it’s impossible for children to learn how adults behave when the adults essentially behave the same as children!

It’s completely normal to have never even held hands with the opposite sex before you are 20 years old.  It’s extremely rare to find anyone under 20 who has ever had a boyfriend/girlfriend, let alone had a physical relationship.  College is a time where the youth of Taiwan finally get to explore who they are as people, but by that time, most of their Selves have been suppressed by The System.

Taiwanese enter adulthood with little more emotional/social maturity than they had when they were in elementary school.

Finding a single 30-year-old man/woman living at home is beyond “not uncommon” – it’s completely normal.

A person living alone, paying for a separate residence from their parents, and living as independently as they can is seen as abnormal…to the point where most Taiwanese people would ask people who do it, “Why do you choose to do that?”

I know fully-grown adults who have curfews set by their parents.

I’m talking about 10pm curfews for girls who, in their 20s, still read fairy tales and await a non-existent Prince Charming to sweep them away to a fantasy land.

I’m talking about men in their 20s who have no interest in women beyond their physical appearance and women in their 20s who have no romantic aspirations beyond motherhood and a man to “take care of them.”

So this is what I mean by Taiwan’s Child Culture.  It’s a culture of immature passive-aggressive people who obey anyone they see as “above them,” though they do so with resentment…not unlike what you would expect from an 8 year-old kid who obeys their teachers or parents: reluctantly, unhappily, but still doing so out of fear of retribution if they don’t.

Taiwanese people are scared.  Like children clinging to their security blankets and burying their heads under the covers, they are obsessed with convenience and stability, sacrificing a great deal for a feeling of “being safe.”  But there’s nothing to fear.  That idea, like all the rest, is injected into them from an early age: that not doing what you are told leads to bad things happening.

It’s important to note that Taiwanese people lived under martial law for, arguably, between 60 to 90 years.  Taiwan was under the Empire of Japan starting in 1895, but the Han Chinese people who would later inhabit it had been living under military rule in China since 1927.  Taiwan was under martial law (dictated by the ROC government) from 1949 to 1987.  That much time being spent in an “obey or die” mindset will certainly mess a culture up; that kind of thing doesn’t go away after a couple of decades.  It’s unlikely for there to be significant changes in that mindset until the generation born before 1980 is no longer in power: sometime around 2030.  That’s assuming these traits of obedience and fear gained from decades of military rule are not now passed down to the children, culturally…though it seems that is absolutely the case.

Because of a century of being ruled with an iron fist, leading Taiwanese people to adapt their culture to that mindset, the culture of Taiwan is left with overgrown children, robbed of childhood, without a clue of how to exist outside their myopic Small Island Syndrome.  This is Taiwan’s Child Culture, so deeply-ingrained that it’s unlikely to change any time soon.

13 thoughts on “Taiwan’s Child Culture

  1. True. Possibly a bit exaggerated but yes, I am afraid the little I have seen so far (I have only been here two month) points in that direction, also when it comes to universities, which I feel is strange. After all everybody at university is a grown-up. Now I kind of understand better… Still lvoe this country but wouldn’t mind a bit more… What should I say? Imagination?

  2. Very interesting to hear about it from someone “on the ground”. In my limited experience of different cultures, I’ve found that something so culturally ingrained like this will take 3 or 4 generations to change for the better. At first people are shell-shocked by the fact that they’re free, then they go to the other extreme to escape anything of their old ways and eventually, if they’re lucky, they settle into something in-between. But as I say – limited experience on my part! Very fascinating read.

  3. While I agree with you that educational systems almost anywhere in the world are set up to basically indoctrinate and robotize kids so they become good workers, and not good thinkers (Thanks mainly to the efforts of John D. Rockefeller in 1903 who set up the General Education system in the US and said “I want workers, not thinkers!” I have to say that the US schools are far worse than the ones here in Taiwan. In the US kids are drugged with mind-killing psychiatric drugs (ritalin, etc.) at an alarming rate (basically schools get more money for “handicapped” kids.) The schools in the US have become fertile territory for pyschiatry/pharmaceutical company profits and victimization. Kids not only become robots in the US, they become mind-crippled robots in the US.

    And speaking of drugging school children, almost every school shooting in the US can be traced back to psychiatric drug use by the perpetrators. When was the last time you heard of a school shooting incident in Taiwan?

    It’s also important to look at results. Compare the unemployment rate in the US compared to Taiwan. US is running about 20% plus and Taiwan is near zero. To Taiwanese families are not only important, they’re crucial. Families run businesses together, families go on vacations together, they help one another out. I doubt this happens in the US as much as it does here. The idea that there is something wrong with a child living at home into his 20s I disagree with. Many children also work and support their parents (and grandparents often times.) I see a lot more respect given to older citizens here than I ever have in the US. Also in Taiwan almost anyone, including a woman can walk safely in the streets almost anywhere. You can leave things outside and they’ll still be there the next day.

    I think in many ways Taiwan kids are far more mature than their counterparts in the US. And kids that finish school and college here actually work in the profession they studied to work in. In the US the failure rate is much higher and a college education to most American kids means party time.

    Consider that the Chinese culture is thousands of years old, and many of those cultural traits still exist today. We johnny-come-latelys should try to learn from that instead of thinking we know best at everything.

    Give me the so-called “child culture” of Taiwan any day.

    • Absolutely agree.

      Love how foreigners assume they understand something as complex as Taiwanese/Asian culture after a few years of surface interactions, and then try to compare it to their (very limited) worldview from a Western standpoint. They try to bring they tough guy attitude to a world where it’s seen as silly, disrespectful and immature, and then turn the tables around on the internet in the hopes that their prejudice will suddenly become validated because a few people “liked” it.

      But obviously, something must be RIGHT here if little 15 year old girls are able to ride bicycles home at 2am in the morning without fear no? The author talks about fear as if it’s much more prevalent in Taiwan, as if Americans don’t have any, but that’s ridiculous denial or shortsightedness on his part. Fear is everywhere, especially outside of Taiwan. It just comes in different forms. Compare the homicide rates per thousand in the US (across the board) to that of nearly all countries in Asia. They speak for themselves to the level of fear that exists in America. He seems to have done a lot of research but will only mention the details that support his extremely biased argument, likely due to his frustration of not fully being able to adjust to a far more rational culture.

      What he needs to be doing is taking his enormously ignorant stance and throwing it out the window before setting foot in Taiwan. Then maybe he can learn something about what being in a FOREIGN culture means. That there’s more than one way to do things, that other people actually have it figured out better than we do, and that Americans are the least knowledgeable bunch when it comes to how to cultivate a society that’s worth living in.

      There’s so much lack of understanding, ignorance basically, in what you wrote here that I can’t even get through reading it without wincing every paragraph. You are literally, clueless when it comes to Taiwan, which is all the more sadder since you LIVE here.

      Here’s a hint: sexual obsession, living on your own, and rebelliousness are all WESTERN standards

      Things are working damn fine here. Nobody gives a damn about what you think “should” or should not happen by age 20. This is not America, it’s Taiwan, and you ought to tattoo that onto your head because it seems like you still think otherwise. You seem like you find it reasonable to compare and therefore criticize based on standards that are completely irrelevant in this country.

      Seriously, grow up Joseph.

  4. Parents put too much expectations in their kids in Taiwan. It is not 100% negative, however, it could stressing for kids. Also, it is sad to spend less time with kids. Sometimes, these kids can be more disciplined than kids raised in USA. I barely see young teens around 15 or 16 getting pregnant here. About dating after 20 years old, I think it is something optional and personal. We do not have to determine an age for kids to date. They will only date when they think they are ready. I was raised in Western Society. I started dating when I was 17. It was late comparing to other girls. But, I remmember when I was 15 or 16 years old. I was more interested in friendships, trips, nature, camping. There is nothing wrong with it. Many buxibans offer a lot of games to earn points during English classes. This is what I am doing right now. It is entertaining, and I can see kids learning. My school allows me to bring some new ideas to improve the teaching. Of course, I received few complains from parents. They complain about their kids not learning as much as they expected. But, these kids are just in first grade in elementary school. They are learning English as second language. Those parents expect them to learn verbs and sentences less than 2 months. That’s weird because their classes are just 1 hour per day. There is a lot of work to do with a 6 year-old-kid, specially the ones with hiperactivity disorder.

  5. Of course teens and young adults get pregnant here…abortion is rife in Taiwan. There is also severe stigma against single mothers in terms of jobs, renting apartments, social status etc. I have seen it personally.

    The education system and the expectations of parents here here simply overloads students, especially the ones that want to pursue the traditional academic path. But vocational students have a lighter load.

    Like lots of things in Taiwan, everybody knows somethings wrong, but nothing really changes.

    The system does produce compliant workers though and therefore there is no push from businesses to fundamentally change it.

    The poor working environment in Taiwan is also an outgrowth of the overloaded educational system.

    There are some good points to Taiwan’s educational system though…less violence and bullying in schools (in general), more mixed schools, less religious interference, more rigorous maths education, good and modern facilities. It’s not all bad. The lack of physical activities is a big negative though!

  6. The culture here is part of the broader ‘confucian society’ mindset. Obedience to elders being key. You can see the same attitudes across all of East Asia.

  7. what an interesting blog, thanks for taking the time out to write. I thought the same thing but this is the first time i’ve seen it articulated so well.

    like other commenters i tend to agree there’s pros and cons of the system, but i do think there is a happy balance that could be met if the educational system had a bit more focus on creativity, physical activity and social interactions.

    where it becomes a huge disadvantage is if a taiwanese educated person is employed in a western environment. Much of the ingrained beliefs run deep even though i left Taiwan since 5th grade, to the point that preferring ‘stability and safety’ has limited me in my career progression.

    another key problem is the inability to communicate well, taiwanese people aren’t renouned for their public speaking. and i think to a large extent the culture runs completely counter to produce charismatic public speakers, there may be historical political reasons why that is the case, e.g. to prevent Taiwanese people from rebelling agaist the then authoritarian KMT govt, but the legacy of that is that Taiwanese people find themselves utterly incapable of leading cross-national teams thus limiting successes of even global corporations such as Acer.

    p.s. love the term “small island syndrome”, describes it too a tee.

  8. Question 1.) Is Taiwan similar to Korea, in that……everything is Korean or non-Korean? The non are insignificant? I ask because one of my new colleges and classmates taught in Korea for 4+ years and now we both resigned our careers to become students again.

    I enjoy the feedback/banter, both good/bad and pro/con, but I picture many involved in this discussion as Merlin from The Sword in the Stone waiving a magic wand decreeing. “My way is best……because I am American, Canadian, Australian, English. etc. ”

    Lets look at the premise of Six Sigma……reduce waist=increase profit. I would agree, from my reading and insight from others, this is how I see the Taiwanese and other Asian countries “drive” their education systems. Sure, short term profits and benefits will be had, but at what cost? Why is Montessori schooling seemingly more prevalent now? Because, it works. Imagine a world where we allowed say….one or two generations of kids to forge their own path. They develop theory, strategy, and overall how best to communicate and articulate with no weight holding them down/back. Don’t you think it’s possible that history repeats because of fucked up logic, fucked up reasoning, and because, “It’s always been done that way?”

    I want my son to grow as he sees fit. If he wants to study art 12 hours a day…awesome. If he delves into philosophy….great. What if he simply wants to play music and live/experience life uninterrupted by the norm? We are, many of us are, afraid to go against this status quo we allowed//allow to control/interfere. Embrace the new, give them time, and for God’s sake, please stop attacking people with using flawed arguments based on opinion without the ability to quantify.

    Also, please use correct facts if using to support a position. Faulty and/or questionable facts are ok for discussion, but futile for anything else.

    Is there a Canadian amongst us? As the great Homey the Clown once said, “Homey don’t play that.” Well, neither should anyone of us.

    Honesty and humility…..

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  10. Couldnt agree more. Lived here over a decade. Fluent in Chinese. Worked my way up into a sales office. And they are incompetent. They can only follow Standard Operating Procedures. When i show them that 7 or 8 points in their procedure are not required they have a melt down. They can’t handle the life outside of the box. This is why their economy is going to hell. And why their women will fuck anything white to get some fiscal security, and maybe to inject some excitement into their bored little lives before they go back to their parents home by 10pm and put on their mickey mouse sleeping tshirt and climb into their hello kitty beds !!!

    I love Taiwan. I want it to change and do better. But this isn’t going to happen. I mean they pumch and slap each other in parliment …. much like a child would when another steals his or her pencil !!

    Sad !!

  11. Well said. This writer doesn’t understand the country very well. Taiwanese look after their parents and their family. Sure, kids work too hard but they have that burden of looking after the old too.

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